Student killed himself after 'being treated like 'monster' by pupils'

‘Brilliant’ student, 15, hanged himself after he was treated like a ‘monster’ by fellow pupils over claim he asked to touch a girl’s breast at a sleepover, inquest hears

  • Police concluded Max Thurnell-Read, 15, wasn’t guilty ‘in any way shape or form’
  • But teenager was vilified online and bombarded with ‘vile’ messages from pupils
  • In month before his death, Max told a doctor he was feeling ‘really low in mood’
  • Coroner said she hoped all those involved would ‘reflect on power of their words’
  • Anyone seeking help can call Samaritans free on 116 123 or visit Samaritans.org 

A talented student hanged himself after he was treated like a ‘monster’ by fellow pupils over a claim he asked to touch a girl’s breast at a sleepover, an inquest heard.

Max Thurnell-Read, 15, was investigated by police who concluded he was not guilty ‘in any way shape or form’ and the complaint was dropped, the hearing was told.

But despite this, the teenager was vilified online and bombarded with ‘toxic’ and ‘vile’ messages from pupils at The Arnewood School in New Milton, Hampshire.

His mother, Tracy Stevens, sobbed as she told the inquest how her musically gifted son was ‘frightened’ of going to school because the situation was like a ‘witch hunt’.

She said: ‘The four weeks leading to his death with the messages he received ultimately led to his decision to take his own life.’

A coroner said she hoped all those involved would ‘reflect on the power of their words’ and the schoolboy had ‘not done anything wrong’.

In the month before his death, Max told a doctor he was feeling ‘really low in mood’ and ‘not 100 per cent himself’.

Although he had been joking with his father, Jonathan Thurnell-Read, just an hour earlier, he was found dead in his bedroom by his parents on May 4 last year.

Max Thurnell-Read (pictured in a school production of Sister Act, where he played the lead role of Curtis), 15, was vilified on social media and bombarded with ‘vile’ messages from pupils

A coroner said she hoped all those involved would ‘reflect on the power of their words’ and the schoolboy had ‘not done anything wrong’ (Max pictured at his first Pride march in Southampton in 2019)

The couple, who have been together for 19 years, were left ‘traumatised’ after trying to resuscitate him for ten minutes before an ambulance arrived at their semi-detached home in New Milton, a market town in Hampshire’s New Forest.

He was later pronounced dead at Southampton General Hospital in Hampshire.

The year 10 pupil was described by his teacher, Michael Biles, as a ‘brilliant student – someone you would want to have in your class’.

But Max became ‘sad and withdrawn’ after the accusation was made following a sleepover in October 2020, the hearing was told, and in December he admitted to self-harming.

The matter was reported to police but DI Robert Harrington told Winchester Coroner’s Court: ‘Nothing has been proven at all.

‘Max was not found guilty in any way shape or form. My colleagues were satisfied that no further actions were to be taken. [Those involved] were updated of this.

‘He acknowledged that there were some things he could have done differently but it was something he could learn from and move forward from.

‘They were recorded as crimes but it wasn’t appropriate to take further action.

‘With regards to the allegations made towards Max, in some cases, even when the complainant does not want to take further action, the police will still take that action.

‘That was not the case here and we were aware of that context.’

Despite this, Max continued to face ‘harassment’.

The teenager, who played the lead role of Curtis in the school’s sell-out production of Sister Act, became ‘sad and withdrawn’ and when lockdown ended in March last year, he stopped going to school.

Max’s mother sobbed as she told the inquest how her musically gifted son was ‘frightened’ of going to school because the situation was like a ‘witch hunt’ (Max’s father Jonathan Thurnell-Read and mother Tracy pictured attending the inquest)

Ms Stevens added: ‘He was treated like a monster.

‘They had him dressed in a corset that evening and said Max wanted to touch a boob. But they were all sexualising each other.

‘He said “I have clearly upset them. Yes the context is all wrong but I do not want to hurt them any more”, and I did not think the girls got that.

‘Distraught was not a strong enough word to describe how he felt. He just wanted his life back.

‘They never saw the effect those messages had on him. He would put off reading these messages for days until he was with us.

‘I have had visits from [his peers] since who said they wished they had not turned [their backs] on him.’

She added that he was a ‘proud member’ of the LGBTQ+ Community and first went to a Pride march in Southampton in 2019.

On the day of his death, Max, a keen guitarist, had a ‘full day planned’ of counselling and drama.

And despite being reassured that the head teacher would meet him at the school gate to accompany him to class, he became ‘increasingly anxious’ and did not go in.

On the day of his death, Max (pictured above), a keen guitarist, had a ‘full day planned’ of counselling and drama. The year 10 pupil was described by his teacher, Michael Biles, as a ‘brilliant student – someone you would want to have in your class’

His counselling was also cancelled by the counsellor at the last minute.

Hampshire Area Coroner Rosamund Rhodes-Kemp said: ‘[Max] had been experiencing problems with a small peer group at school and had become very troubled by this during April 2021.’ 

He added: ‘Hopefully they will all reflect on the power of their words. It is important that people realise the consequences of a social media culture.

‘I don’t think Max did anything wrong and things got out of hand. I’m so sorry – I don’t think his death was necessary.

‘The only good that has come out of it is that there has been reflection on the power of words and the need to use them carefully, and that those involved in the future will be less quick to turn on someone and gang up.’

A post mortem examination showed his cause of death was asphyxiation. 

A Go Fund me page was set up for donations to Young Minds, a charity which supports young people, raising almost £3,500 at the time of writing.

A bench in Max’s memory is at Ballard’s Lake, and his mother said she was comforted by seeing other young people there.

Anyone seeking help can call Samaritans free on 116 123 or visit Samaritans.org

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